Remember summer as a teenager? A bowl of Lucky Charms with the windows open at 11 a.m. and lunch and a boom box by the pool in late afternoon. Evening would stretch into tomorrow without a thought. Summer was one long endless day – and it was glorious. Fast forward to summer now as a parent of young kids: breakfast at 6 a.m. (probably still Lucky Charms), parental lifeguarding at the pool for hours, and then watching the kids buzz with the frenetic energy of freedom while you stare down the twilight sun. Summer is one long endless day – and it is exhausting.
I’m all for freedom and relaxed schedules and bare feet and popsicles. More than all that I’m for sleep. Sleep and I have been best friends from the very beginning. We may have seen less of each other in those dark days of pregnancy and infancy, but we always find our way back. Because of that I will not give it up for love or money. So, I have had to make myself an expert in speaking its love language to my kids, in weaving its voodoo magic over them like a net that pulls them slowly and steadily towards their beds. If you’re in a committed relationship with sleep and would like it to stay that way, here are five tips to get your kids to bed in the heyday of summer.
1 | Wear them out
One thing summer has going for it is all the stimulus. Between the heat from the pavement, the glare of the sun, and the chlorine and endless motion of the pool those little bodies will be worn out, which makes the perfect siren song for bed. The more tired they are, the more necessary a consistent bedtime will be.
Doesn’t that all sound so rational? So reasonable? So the exact opposite of children. They’re still going to fight it to the very end with that weird hyperactivity that seems counterintuitive to tiredness. However, their bodies and minds are tired even if they don’t show it. The physicality of their days really will work in your favor. You just have to be more stubborn than they are.
2 | Nap earlier
The early sunrise will help you here… which is what you need to tell yourself when they wake up on a cheery Wednesday morning at 5:30 a.m. with nothing but you and time to fill their day. Despite pools and camp and trip schedules, it’s still important to nap earlier rather than later in the afternoon. The longer you push it the longer they’ll push it at bedtime.
They are greedy for those evening hours and will feel cheated if that late nap bleeds into bedtime. If your kids aren’t nappers? Quiet time. We do this with our oldest. While the youngest two nap, he gets an hour of time to himself to do whatever he wants. The only rule: he and his activity of choice must be quiet. Read, draw, build a pillow fort – do whatever needs doing that doesn’t requite noise.
3 | Keep your cool (literally)
I like my bedroom like I like my wine. Chilled. I want it polar – icy around the edges. I want to cocoon myself in a deep huddle of blankets and feel the world around shiver. Pregnancy was a beast – each kid like a hot potato tucked in my middle. They came out, however, with my temperament. We have a mutual understanding that in the summer the air conditioning must be on high at least thirty minutes prior to sleep. The recommended temperature, according to most doctors and A/C companies, is 68-72 degrees for optimal comfort level. If you don’t want to face that kind of electric bill, then invest in some decent fans and go minimal with pajamas. Less is more in this case.
4 | Black it out
Their room should resemble a dark cave, where only the flicker of a friendly nightlight breaks the shadows, which is harder than it sounds at 7:30 p.m. when the sun’s still waving at them like, hey what’s up, want to keep those good times coming? Kids are like cavemen, they operate with the seasons. You can point at the clock all you want. They’re going to point at the sky and argue otherwise.
Which is why you need some serious blackout shades – the kind that seal every crevice like a giant sleep mask for the room. It’s the best trick in the world: out of sight, out of mind. This will also work in your favor when morning comes and nobody’s the wiser until you want them to be.
5 | Give a little
It’s still summer after all. Everybody needs a little wiggle room. If you’re on vacation or out to catch fireflies or at a movie in the park, let it go. Sleep will always be there, waiting on the sidelines. One late night every now and then isn’t going to break them or you. Just think what you survived in their early years. Plus, these memories, the ones where you watch the orange glow of the sunset or the campfire reflected on their faces, will keep you going when you’re empty nesting it and wishing you had some little person to keep you from sleep.
Sleep and summer can still be friends, just like when you were a teenager. Well, maybe not just like that. There will be no Bananarama on the clock radio to wake you up at noon, but bedtime doesn’t have to be your losing sport. In fact, if you play the game right, you might just come out with a winning season.